Thanks to a Devin Booker game winner on Tuesday, the Phoenix Suns are 3-0 in Orlando. The bubble has been a fun venture for the Suns thus far, as they have forced themselves into the mix for the play-in.
The decision to go with 22 teams rather than 20 was an odd one. Phoenix looked to be making up the numbers. Of course, that notion has already been proved incorrect.
Wins over the Wizards, Mavericks and Clips have shown that the Suns belong in the bubble. Their 26-39 record before the restart was not false, and they may yet finish 13th in the Western Conference, but there is legitimate reason for optimism, something the franchise has been sorely lacking for years. They have not played a playoff game since 2010.
Booker has been a star in the making for several seasons. In the doldrums at the base of the standings, his scoring can be overlooked, his big nights no more than a short video on Twitter. He has the best true scoring percentage of his career in 2019-20, but his numbers are not drastically better than last season. It is the players around him that have improved.
DEVIN BOOKER IN THE BUBBLE:
🔥 27 Pts, W
🔥 30 Pts, W
🔥 35 Pts, GW buzzer-beater pic.twitter.com/s3ewgZF58m
— ESPN (@espn) August 4, 2020
The Suns picked up experienced players to give them solid minutes. Kelly Oubre was better than that before his injury, Aron Baynes was vital while Deandre Ayton was out. Ricky Rubio has taken some of the playmaking pressure away from Booker, allowing him to work off-ball more. Dario Saric is solid at both ends. Frank Kaminsky does his job.
Previous Phoenix rosters have not been blessed with such veteran presence. They have loaded up on good role players. Monty Williams, a relative gamble as head coach, brought a significant defensive improvement.
Baynes, Saric and Rubio are all nice to have around, but those players do not dictate the ceiling of a team. Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Booker do that.
Ayton will forever be held against Luka Doncic and Trae Young through no fault of his own. He is quietly going about his business, improving on the defensive end while putting up 19 and 12. The shooting range isn’t there yet, but there’s reason to believe it will come.
Booker is, and always will be, the star of this team. Only nine players are scoring more per game than him this season. There is no audacious leap to superstardom, this is just what Booker does. He scores the ball from all over the court, and he’s become more dangerous playing alongside a serviceable point guard. The weaknesses, the tunnel vision, the lack of defensive interest, are lessening.
Don't sleep on Mikal Bridges 🔥
26 PTS (10-12FG)
Showed out today. pic.twitter.com/9jp98N7J6g
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 28, 2020
We knew what Booker could be. Ayton was a number one pick. Bridges, acquired in a draft night trade with the Sixers, has been more of a surprise. Not many wings can match Bridges’ level defensively and he’s eliminated a hitch in his jumper. His true scoring of 61.7% on the season is a great sign for a second or third option – he’s also knocking down over 35% of his attempts from beyond the arc.
Monty Williams deserves great praise for what the Suns are on course to becoming. They are not there yet, of course, and there’s still a long trek to go before they are anywhere near the finished article, but for the first time in longer than any Suns fan would care to remember, they have reasonable justification to believe they are close to having a good team.
Making the playoffs would be great, but even if they don’t, Phoenix can leave the bubble dreaming of a bright future.